Shortly after taking office, President Obama pulled the financial plug on further development of the Yucca Mountain, Nevada nuclear waste storage facility, prompting Environmental Issues Guide Larry West to ask the very difficult question, "If not Yucca Mountain, where?" Based on the action being taken by Congress, the answer could still be Yucca Mountain.
President Obama's first federal budget proposal, submitted to Congress in February, recommended "scaling back" further funding for the Yucca Mountain Nation Nuclear Waste Storage Facility to an amount necessary to answer remaining questions asked by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding the safety and suitability of the Yucca Mountain site. In addition, Obama directed Congress to authorize funding for a Blue Ribbon Commission to study "alternative options" for safely disposing of the nation's collection of highly radioactive nuclear waste, now totaling 63,000 tons and growing daily.
Congress Just Can't Let Go of Yucca Mountain
Since the presidential campaign, Obama has clearly indicated that he did not consider Yucca Mountain to be one of those "alternative options" for nuclear waste storage. Congress, however, is resisting the presidential call to let go of the Yucca Mountain plan.
In its joint House-Senate conference report to the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill for FY 2010 (H.R. 3183), Congress proposes to authorize spending $5 million for Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission to study "alternative options" for nuclear waste storage only if "Yucca Mountain is considered in the review."
"The Yucca Mountain site is, arguably, the most studied geology on the planet. Almost ten billion taxpayer dollars have been spent on Yucca Mountain and 1.5 million documents have supported the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's licensing of the site," state the House-Senate conference committee members, further declaring that the Blue Ribbon Commission's review would "not have scientific integrity without considering Yucca Mountain."
What Happens Next?
A final vote on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill conference report will not take place until Congress returns from its Labor Day recess on September 8. Even if Congress passes the bill, President Obama might very well veto it if it contains language that in any way retains Yucca Mountain as a potential national nuclear waste storage site.
As Larry West points out, where to put the nation's nuclear waste remains "one of the most controversial NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) issues in history," and for now, residents near Yucca Mountain, Nevada should continue to keep a close eye on their backyard.